october 2004

Work is better than it was yesterday, but it's still not good and there are several storms on the horizon. That's about all I have to say right now, so if you want more content, head over to notes, where I've written a nice long entry for today.

Okay. I've held out long enough. Time to recap my last day in Chicago, way back in August, and our day with my mom a couple of weekends ago. But they're really going to be just that: quick recaps. This is more for my obsessive desire to record these things for posterity than anything else at this point, but what am I going to do? Nothing, that's what. I'm helpless in the face of this compulsion.

My last Saturday in Chicago: I woke up at 8 after not getting in until after 2 to catch the free shuttle to the Art Institute. I got to the departure point by 9, when it was scheduled to leave, but doorman told me it had left early (a fact later confirmed—and bitched about—by some of the people who had barely managed to catch it, at least one of whom missed the return ride, which also left earlier than scheduled). So instead, I went back upstairs and had breakfast with Tori and Rachel, and then we all took the El into the city to the Art Institute and spent several hours there, including a very nice lunch outdoors in the central court of the museum, where I had an excellent seared tuna sandwich.

Dad met up with us there after his meetings got out, around 5 or so when the Institute was closing. While Tori and Rachel were in the gift shop, I watched five kids drumming on five gallon plastic buckets who were drawing a pretty good crowd until some cops showed up and confiscated their buckets. When Tori and Rachel were finished, we all got back on the El and headed north to the Star of Siam, a great (and cheap) thai restaurant that I had been to once before with my mom. After a leisurely dinner there, we headed over to Navy Pier for the fireworks, and we had enough time for a ferris wheel ride before they began. That was pretty cool, despite my vertigo, and the fireworks were pretty good as well (it's no exaggeration that this display, which Chicago does once a week, were unquestionably better than Baltimore's July 4 display, which is just pathetic). After the fireworks, we took the El back to the hotel and got some sleep before we all went our separate ways the next day, me flying back to Baltimore, dad and Rachel flying back to Wilmington, and Tori driving back to Iowa, where her classes were starting the next day. A great trip overall—I would love to do more cross-country driving with my sister before we both get too old and entrenched in our domestic lives in different cities.

Now for mom's visit a couple of weekend's ago: She was in Delaware for a conference (or something), but since she was spending the next week in New Jersey, she decided to come down to Baltimore on Saturday to spend a few hours with us. We decided to go to lunch and the zoo, and since we weren't meeting until relatively late in the morning (11:30), we were able to convince Dodd to come along. There wasn't anything too remarkable about the day except that mom locked the keys to her rental car in the trunk and we had to call AAA to get them out, and that the Baltimore Zoo really sucks now. Their pride and joy is this new polar bear habitat that they opened last year, but I don't think it's anywhere near as good as the old one, which was basically just a big swimming pool where you could watch Magnet (the male bear who they've had for a while) swim and dive and play with his ball. The new enclosure looked half-finished, and the swimming area seemed much smaller, and Magnet spent the entire time we were there hiding behind a large artificial rock structure, whereas all I remember him doing at the old one was swimming constantly and playing with a giant red ball. The old one was also right next to the prairie dog habitat, and they are probably the second most entertaining animals there.

Mom needed to leave before dinner, so she dropped Dodd and Julie and I off back at the campus (we had left my car there and Dodd lives right next to campus) and got on the road to New Jersey. I think our internet was down that weekend, so I used my computer at work to do all my football picks, and I've talked myself into believing that I went over to the DMC to print out some of my photos, but I don't really know if that's true or not.

That's the problem with waiting so long to write about this stuff when your schedule is as hectic as mine has been for the past month or so: everything just blends together into this mess of a timeline. But correct or not, I'm all finished writing about these two weekends, and that's how they're going to exist in my memory forever. I feel better now.

Because I'm feeling lazy this week and I have about a million things to do before we leave for Leila's wedding in Kentucky on Thursday, I'm going to finish off another long-overdue task this week: posting the remainder of Tori's postcards from europe. Here's the next one in the sequence:

Tori's note:

People are always stopping me to ask for directions, although I always try to look unapproachable. I walk fast, I wear my headphones, I don't look anyone in the eye. One time I was even wearing a Davidson College baseball cap, and some German ladies stopped me for directions to the Getreidegasse. What are these people thinking? Where is Mozart's house? Where are the Mirabell Gardens? I give them directions that are vaguely correct, because I'm not exactly sure myself. Next street, left. Next bridge, right. And I wave my finger in that general direction. I think if they knew how bad I was at judging distances and giving directions, but especially if they knew about the strange postcards I send, then they would avoid me altogether. I guess they think I look trustworthy, the poor suckers. Miss ya—Tori

Thank you again, Tori, from freeing me from the burden of content.

P.S.—I know you're back in the states now, but I'm going to need some more postcards soon. Hop to it.

I'm leaving for a few days to attend a wedding, so no further posts til next week.

Another postcard from Tori, this one apparently sent from Rome:

Tori took this picture, so don't steal it or
she'll hunt you down and kill you

The text:

In the spirit of sending you strange things from the Vatican, I present to you: Central Core imagery. Secretly, their my bedsheets, but don't tell. Rome is hot, and filled with tourists and crazy drivers, but the highlight of this trip was eating pasta and drinking homemade wine at Guido's. Thank you, Guido. Love, Tori

No, I don't know what Central Core imagery is, either. Do you think Guido's homemade wine might have had anything to do with that particular sentence?

I think it will be quite some time before I travel by air again. I didn't get sick or have a scary experience or anything like that, I've just flown a lot in the last year and I'm getting a little tired of it.

Tori's next postcard:

I'm totally not going to do research
to translate this for you

Her text:

To be honest, I don't really know what that means. So, classes are over, I'm just hanging out in Salzburg until Daneen comes, being a bum. In the meantime I fell off my bicycle and had a lovely trip to the doctor where he taped my gash together and told me it probably should have been sewed. Supa! So in August when you see me I can show you my new eyebrow piercing, as well as my lovely new scar. It will be just like old times, or something. So my Austrian experience is now complete, I've seen Herr Doktor. Alles ist ganz Wunderbar! Talk to you soon. Love, Tori

That's weird. I though she already had an eyebrow piercing before she went to Austria. Huh.

Damn it, Braves.

Tori's second to last postcard from her year abroad, and her first from her summer program in Ireland:

Again, I refuse to translate

The text:

OK so P.S. - uh, I'm in Dublin now, drinking lots of Guiness and hearing lots of things about James Joyce that I never knew, and feeling guilty about not having done my reading. Well. Classes haven't started yet; I'm just bumming about still, grocery shopping and the like, getting annoyed at these Americans. I'm starting to realize I may have a bit of a hard time re-adjusting come August. But I don't get angry...I get even. Whatever that's supposed to mean. Love, Tori

For the record, Tori re-adjusted to America pretty quickly once she got her hands on a Dairy Queen brownie batter blizzard.

I know quite a few of you who read this thing are in the Baltimore area, and tonight at Hopkins they are hosting a speaker named Brian Greene. He is the author of "The Elegant Universe", a book about string theory that changed my life. The university has done a piss-poor job of publicizing it, and it's open to the public, so I encourage everyone to come, whether you've read his books or not.

Actually, I demand that you attend. I don't want to sound like a culty nut, but seriously, this guy made me see the universe in a whole new way, and hardly a day goes by that I don't think about something I read in "The Elegant Universe". Here's a link with more information about the lecture. If anyone else is planning to go, let me know and maybe we can arrange to meet up for a few minutes beforehand.

Well, another season has ended in heartbreak for Braves fans, and this one was especially hard to swallow because of the difficulties this team faced in just gettiing to the postseason. Despite what all the tv idiots seemed to imply—that the Braves coasted into this postseason—it's just not true. Their division featured the Marlins (the defending World Series champs), a Phillies team with a new stadium and some big free agent signings that were supposed to put them over the top (they were the trendy pick to take the division at the beginning of the season), and a Mets team which is always a threat to compete. Most commentators picked the Braves to finish no higher than third in the division, and no one picked them to win their 13th straight division title.

And for the first half of the season, it looked like their incredible postseason run would finally come to an end: on June 24, the Braves were in fourth place in their division, 5 games under .500 and 9 games behind the first place Marlins with both the Phillies and the Mets a few games ahead of them. They had been depleted by injuries to key personnel (Rafael Furcal, Paul Byrd, Marcus Giles, Horacio Ramirez, Chipper Jones, and Adam LaRoche were all injured for for some portion of the first half of the season), free agency had taken three of their most productive hitters (Vinny Castilla, Gary Sheffield, and Javy Lopez) and a hall of fame pitcher (Greg Maddux), and management hadn't replaced these losses with any known quantities (J.D. Drew had the best season of his career, and John Thomson and Jaret Wright both salvaged their careers under Leo Mazzone's tutelage, but no one predicted these performances at the beginning of the season). Plus, even when Chipper, the unofficial team captain and longtime key to the offense, was able to play, he was batting close to .200, far below his career average and certainly not the kind of production you need from your cleanup spot.

From June 25 to August 15, however, the Braves didn't lose another series until they played the Cardinals, who just happened to be the best team in baseball this season and who took 2 out of 3 from the Braves that weekend. The Braves only lost three other series the rest of the season, all in September and two of which featured at least one doubleheader, which always cause problems with a pitching rotation as rigid and methodical as Leo Mazzone's staff. After that unbelievable stretch, during which Giles, Furcal, Byrd, and LaRoche returned from the DL and Chipper finally found his swing, the Braves were 15 games above .500 (a 20 game turnaround in less than two months), and just as many games ahead of the Marlins, Phillies, and Mets, all of whom had fallen close to .500 despite the fact that all three of those teams went out and picked up help before the July 31 trade deadline (the Braves, of course, were not afforded that luxury by the increasingly stingy Time-Warner accounting drones).

What killed the Braves in the end is what has hurt them for the past few seasons: they are built to win the regular season, not the postseason, and they are increasingly faced with first round opponents that have been designed to win in the postseason with two or three dominating starting pitchers, a great closer, and a lineup stacked with good hitters. None of the Braves starters would be a number one guy on any other rotation, and they might not even rank a number two. John Smoltz is a great leader and an amazing closer, and the Braves do have a pretty good lineup of hitters, but they've become much more the kind of team that scores a run here or there and beats you gradually, whereas most playoff teams rely on the three-run homerun and the big inning. And although the Braves' bench was much stronger this year, which has been a major weakness in the past, it wasn't enough to help them win the NLDS against the Astros. This year it's easy to blame the pitching—none of the starters gave them a quality start in the postseason, and the bullpen was exhausted by game 5—but every year it's something different, and at this point, the first decade of the new century is starting to feel more like bad luck than anything.

But the Astros deserved to win the series, and it wouldn't have shocked me if they had won it in three games. The two games they gave up to the Braves were lost late in the game by only a run or two, while the Braves' losses were lopsided, almost laughable affairs with wide margins of victory for Houston. By hanging on so long, all the Braves really managed to do was deplete the Astros energy so that the Cardinals will have an even easier time defeating them in the NLCS (where I won't be at all surprised to see St. Louis cruise to the World Series in a four game sweep). If the Astros manage to win even one game of the series, it will be a victory for them, considering how much defeating the Braves took out of them. Really, after that series, neither the Braves nor the Astros would have had much of a chance against the Cardinals, who are well-rested and firing on all cylinders. If I had to bet, I'd say that the rest of the postseason will play out this way: Cardinals over Astros in five, Yankees over Red Sox in seven, Cardinals over Yankees in six (I think whoever wins the ALCS will be similarly exhausted after that series and won't have much left against St. Louis, who again should be well-rested after a quick NLCS victory).

Still, it was amazing that Atlanta was able to repeat as division champs, even though they made it look easy from August on, and it's even more incredible that they led the NL in ERA even though they lack a single dominating starter. Bobby Cox deserves manager of the year this year more than any other (except, perhaps, 1991, when the Braves began their current streak of division titles), and both he and pitching coach Leo Mazzone deserve plaques in Cooperstown someday. But right now, I bet they'd both rather have another World Series ring.

As for my fantasy baseball season...well, I did three leagues this year, my standard points league with friends and family, and two head-to-head leagues with coworkers. I got killed in the head-to-head leagues, finishing dead last in each one, but the points league is the one I really care about (although it's easy for me to say that now after finishing last in the other two). I won that league the first year, Scott won it last year, and CS Jeff finally won it this year after finishing in the top 3 each of the first two seasons. I fared much better than last year, when I came in last, finishing fourth and just a hair out of third, while Scott dropped to seventh, his lowest position yet after finishing second and first the first two years of the league. Jeff actually had the league locked up from the all-star break forward, with no one getting withing 20 points of his total (as opposed to the first two seasons, both of which stayed competitive much longer), but that doesn't diminish his victory. It's kind of fitting, too—the three of us probably take the league more seriously than anyone else, and now each of us has a championship. But who's going to be the first one to get two?

Brian Greene was amazing last night. He didn't really say anything new (that is, anything that I hadn't already read in "The Elegant Universe"), but it was incredible the way he could talk about these super-complex and counter-intuitive physics theories in a way that kept them simple and accessible. I thought he did an astounding job of explaining them in just a few hundred pages in his books, but in just over an hour and a half of speaking he was able to bring the same passion for the subject matter and the same clarity to the concepts underlying quantum mechanics and string theory. Dodd and Julie came with me, and both of them were blown away and eager to revisit his ideas in more detail in his books. Julie has a decent background in science, but Dodd hasn't ever shown much interest in physics (I'm actually very surprised—and pleased—that he wanted to attend), and both of them basically came at my insistence, and they both came away with a real sense of excitement and newfound curiosity about modern subatomic physics. For all of you who missed it, shame on you; I can't urge you enough to go out and buy one of Greene's books right now.

So Seadragon and I are going to have another go at selling our photographs this weekend, after our aborted attempt last month at the HampdenFest flea market that got rained out. This time we'll be setting up at the Pigtown Festival, which takes place down near the harbor next to the B&O Railroad Museum. We'll be there from noon to 5, and it looks like the weather will be much better this time. I'm not really sure what all is involved with this festival, but there's something called the Running of the Pigs that should be entertaining. Hope to see a few of you out there.

Happy birthday, brain coral. You're four years old today, and I think you've got at least another year in you, even though I haven't been able to pay as much attention to you recently as I would like. Your younger sibling notes is also celebrating its first year of existence today, but its future is much more in doubt; it has been a lot harder to maintain a steady output of content for that site. But it took me a while to get me sea legs for you, too, so there's still a good chance notes will live and long and happy life.

Anyway. Back to my normal content schedule tomorrow. Just felt compelled to note the occasion.

What the fuck was up with the Yankees and Red Sox game on Saturday night? $300 million in payroll between them, and they play a game with 37 hits and 27 runs scored? In a playoff game? The game took four hours and twenty minutes, for god's sake, and that was without extra innings. Why don't we just let them hold a home run derby to decide the ALCS? It would take a hell of a lot less time.

I'm getting my posts out of order again—I still want to tell you about Julie getting to see the rare book room at the Walters, and our trip to Kentucky for Leila's wedding a week ago—but since I know that you are all waiting with bated breath for details of Pigtown on Saturday, I'll cover that first.

I spent the last two nights before the show getting ready for it, since my first three nights last week were taken up with class, internship, and the Brian Greene lecture. I had ordered a bunch of re-sealable plastic bags for my prints from an online mat supply company, along with some backing boards for the mats and a few new mats. The way the bags are made, you can put a matted photo and a backing board in it, seal it up, and just put it out for sale and it looks pretty professional (in fact, the idea was half-stolen from a photographer at HampdenFest, although I had also read about that technique online). On Friday after work, we also stopped off at Michael's and Staples to pick up a few more mats, some display stands, and a small table. I had about 30 pictures printed, and although I had orignally planned to only mat 10 of them and have the rest available in plastic sleeves for a lower price, I figured that since I had enough supplies, I might as well go ahead and mat all of them.

This turned out to be a very good idea, because after we got home that night, I found a message on my phone from Seadragon saying that she wasn't going to be able to make the show, which meant that I was going to have to fly solo. I was a little nervous about this—she was the one who originally got me interested in trying something like this, and I really wanted to have her around both for moral support and because her photos and presentation were a good compliment to mine and might help bring in customers that mine wouldn't—but Julie was so excited about it that she wouldn't let me think about not going. So I stayed up until midnight on Friday getting all my photos ready, printing up my price sheets (I had a few different versions in case I needed to lower the price because things weren't selling), and packing everything up for the morning.

The instructions the organizers sent me in the mail with my registration confirmation were pretty specific about when you had to be there, what time you had to be set up by, etc., and when we got off late (we were originally intending to leave by 9:15, but didn't end up leaving until close to 10) I thought they might not let us set up. But I quickly discovered that pretty much everything in their packet was a bunch of hot air—we had no problem setting up, and there were other exhibitors who were still getting their stuff assembled well after the 11 a.m. deadline that the packet had specified.

The day started off cloudy, but by 11:30 or so, the sun had come out, the sky was blue, and it was generally starting to look like a perfect day. Crowds started showing up around noon, and although it had gotten cloudy again, it was still a nice day. Several people stopped by and flipped through all my pictures, complimenting them, asking about prices, etc., but no one bought anything. The woman in the space next to me assured me that this was pretty normal for these types of shows, and that a lot of the people who spent a long time looking would return on their way out to buy something, but I still really wanted to make that first sale and just get past that hurdle. By 1 p.m., when the first running of the pigs took place (which was more like a pushing of the pigs, as they refused to move forward without a handler who walked the course behind them and forced them to walk), I still hadn't hadn't sold anything, and I was getting a little antsy.

The crowds were growing larger, and I was getting a lot of people looking at my stuff, but then it suddenly got very windy and started to rain, and we had to move our table under our very gracious neighbor's tent to keep it dry (we have learned a lot of things each time we have prepped for or done one of these shows, and a big lesson learned on Saturday was make sure to always have paper towels to wipe up water and plastic garbage bags to protect your wares). It cleared up about 45 minutes later, and our browsers picked up right where they had left off, but it wasn't until the middle of the afternoon that I made my first sale, to a biology teacher who liked my picture of a cicada emerging from its shell.

Shortly after this, Dodd showed up and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with us and taking in the festival. He had told me he was coming, but I wasn't sure if he'd really come—we had plans to meet for dinner that night anyway, and I figured he might just bag the festival and see us then. But he came and spent at least three hours with us, chatting and waiting for the second running of the pigs. It was nice.

Sometime in there (before the rain had stopped and Dodd showed up, I think), I noticed a blond girl wandering up and down the festival street acting like she was looking intently for someone. I was thinking it might be Fate's Fool, but I wasn't sure—I have been corresponding with her for a while, and I saw her from a distance at HampdenFest, but we'd never offcially met. I decided to take a chance, so I walked over to her and asked her if she was Fool (well, I used her real name—it's not my habit to call complete strangers fools in the street), and she said she was. She had been looking for Seadragon, who she has met in person, but she didn't know that Seadragon had decided not to come, and since she had never seen me...well, you get the picture.

She stayed and chatted for a while, and also grabbed eebmore out of the crowd, who I'd also never met, and brought him over to the table for a bit (eebmore has also posted some nice pictures from the event, and although I have a bunch like them, I'm too lazy to process and post them now, so just have a look at his). They went out to lunch somewhere, but she returned after the sun came back out and talked with Dodd, Julie, and me for a while longer. She was gracious enough to buy two of my prints and pay me full price for them, despite my offer of a discount. I really wish that I had insisted that she take them at the lower price, but I hate arguing about money, and so I gave in without too much fuss. I'll have to make it up to her later by buying a round or two of drinks.

The weather acted really bizarre the rest of the afternoon, but it never got bad enough to drive the crowds away, and the lady in the booth next to us turned out to be right—people did start to come back and get more serious about buying as the day wore on. I sold three more prints and gave someone my email address who wanted to buy one but didn't have any money with her. Dodd also bought three prints at the end of the day, and I gave one to the woman in the booth next to us as thanks for letting us use her space to keep our stuff dry during the rain, so in total I ended up with 10 fewer prints than I started out with. I wish a few more non-friends/family had purchased a print or two, but I got a lot of good response from the browsers, many of whom looked at every print I had on display, and I think if the weather had been less flaky I would have made a few more sales.

All in all, it was a fun day and an encouraging experience. I think the weather is getting too cold to think about doing another one of these this year, but I'm definitely interested in trying this a few more times next year, probably starting with Hopkins Spring Fair and Artscape. I don't expect to make any money off it, but I really enjoy the thought of these photos having a life beyond me, and beyond their fairly limited role on this site.

Ah, Boston. It's so cute how you think you still have a chance to win the ALCS. But thanks for at least making it a series. Maybe you'll tire out the Yanks just enough to give the National League a fighting chance in the World Series. But please, enough with the 5+ hour games already. Try scoring some runs before the ninth inning.

It feels like it should be at least Thursday by now.

I am really enjoying both my internship and my physics class, but man, I am going to be a happy man when this semester is over.

Wow. Gotta hand it to the Red Sox. I (along with the rest of the baseball-watching world located outside the state of Massachusetts) thought there was no way they could come back from being down three games to none. Even after the extra-innings heroics of games 4 and 5, I thought the Yankees were still a lock—after all, the Sox just barely squeaked out wins in those games, and now they were headed back to Yankee Stadium where the home field advantage would be with the Yanks. Even tonight after the Sox took an early lead, I had no doubt about the outcome: the Yankees always win in situations like this, and the Red Sox always find a way to lose. That's just what those teams do.

I hate both of these teams with a passion, but I was kind of rooting for the Yankees because this series meant more to the Red Sox, and therefore they would have suffered more had they lost it (just getting to the series is a major accomplishment for the Sox, while the Yankees still have recent ALCS and World Series victories to give them comfort during the offseason). I don't know if that logic makes any sense to you, but it does to me. As for the World Series, I'm still going to root for whoever wins the NLCS, but I'm hoping it's the Cardinals, because I really believe that they have been consistently the best team in baseball this season.

I was right about the winner of the NLCS, but wrong about the number of games it would take (I predicted the Cards in five), and I was right about the number of games in the ALCS but wrong about the winner (like pretty much everyone else, especially after the first three games). But I'm still sticking to my World Series prediction of the Cards in six, I'm just substituting the surprising Red Sox for the now-upset Yankees. Play ball!

There have been three features that regular readers of this site have emailed me to ask for: comments, permalinks, and an RSS feed. Comments are just not going to happen—while I like the idea of having the site be more interactive and I know the threshold for leaving a comment is lower than it is for sending an email, I just don't want the hassle of policing the comments that are left (plus, they'd be a huge pain to set up given my current structure). But as you can see, I have now added permalinks to all my entries, and an RSS feed is forthcoming, so hopefully two out of three will keep you all satisfied for a while.

SNL really sucks. I mean, it has sucked for a while now, but with the departure of Jimmy Fallon from Weekend Update, the lack of any original characters (just try to name one), and the increasing reliance of crappy political skits (The Daily Show does better political parody EVERY NIGHT that SNL can conjure up every other week), the show has hit a new low. You'd be better off tuning into E! and watching re-runs from the 90s.

If you've been reading this site for a while, you're probably familiar with Scott, my friend from high school who is now a practicing attorney in the Boston area. Although he's a North Carolina native, he's apparently been in the northeast long enough to become infected with the Red Sox disease, and so he was none too pleased with my posts last week about the Red Sox, especially the one I wrote after they won the ALCS. Here is his response:

Subject: You bitter, bitter little man

Message: What in tarnation did the Boston Red Sox ever do to you to deserve such vitriolic bile to be spewed from you? Sure, the fans are a little rowdy—in Baltimore! Up here, it's a way of life. It's a mentality that affect how people approach such mundane things like the weather and shopping. If the Red Sox lost, it wouldn't have been that bad really. Everything would just resort to normal—with the karma gods continuing to frown on Red Sox Nation for no particular reason—just cuz. But we still had faith. An unusual type of faith at that. This was not a faith based on some past actions that were neither witnessed nor properly documented—but a faith on future actions being a certainty. It's the kind of faith that carries people through their days, an optimism that makes anything possible.

How can anyone root against that kind of belief?

Okay. Here's the thing: I'm not rooting against the belief, because that's what makes sports fandom great, I'm rooting against the actual fans. Over the past two seasons, I've had to sit amongst these morons for around ten games at Camden Yards, and they get more and more irritating and obnoxious each time. To my mind, they're worse than Yankees fans because at least the Yankees have some recent world championships to back up their bravado (although in the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I have attended far fewer Orioles games against the Yankees).

But what the Sox fans need to think about is whether they really want their team to win. I mean, yes, they love their team and they root for their team and they believe that the best thing in the world would be if the Red Sox were to break the Curse and win another World Series (and if they happened to defeat arch-rivals the Yankees and former World Series foes the Cardinals along the way, so much the better). But what will a world championship do to their faith? There is a mystique about the Red Sox Curse, and the same msytique surrounding the Cubs Curse is what has made both teams so beloved by their fans for so many decades. Say the Sox win the World Series this year (and being up 2-0 over the Cards currently, there's a pretty good chance of that happening), and next year, and a couple of years after that. Where does the mystique go? What happens to all that faith?

Scott actually makes the best argument against the Sox winning himself (I know it's really lame to quote the same passage twice in one entry, but what are you going to do?):

If the Red Sox lost, it wouldn't have been that bad really. Everything would just resort to normal—with the karma gods continuing to frown on Red Sox Nation for no particular reason.... But we still had faith.... It's the kind of faith that carries people through their days, an optimism that makes anything possible.

If the Red Sox win, the world still sucks a lot of the time, but now there's no mystical, Red Sox-related reason for it—it just sucks. There's no more optimism tied to the Sox, no more faith, because the Red Sox winning hasn't fundamentally altered the universe. The miracle the fans have been praying for for years has been realized, and yet things are still as "normal" as they've ever been.

Far from validating and strengthening the faith of their fans, as the re-appearance of Christ might do for a christian, I think that a World Series win by the Sox would reduce them from plucky underdog status worth rooting for (underdogs with the second-highest payroll in baseball, lest we forget) to mere mortals, to just a baseball team full of overpaid stars with outsized egos. If they keep on winning, they're eventually going to be seen as nothing but another big-market team leveraging the inequity in baseball's revenue sharing scheme to buy themselves a championship every few years. In other words, the Sox will just be a slightly different version of the Yankees. Is that really what you Red Sox fans want?

A few weeks ago, as Will and I were leaving the Walters after my internship, he asked if Julie might be interested in coming one evening to see the collection and get a better feel for what it is I've been doing during my evenings at the museum. The offer was incredibly generous, but not all surprising, given how much effort Will has put into making the astounding collection of manuscripts at the Walters accessible to members of the general public during his tenure as curator of rare books and manuscripts. Of course Julie was interested, and so the next week she came with me and got to hear mini-lectures from Will about illuminated manuscripts (sort of his greatest hits collection from the course I took with him) and leaf through a good number of those manuscripts (including Walters 241, the book I studied, and Walters 103, the book my friend Diane studied).

When my internship hours were over (even though I didn't do much research or data entry that night), we went out to dinner at Sascha's with Will and Richard, a graduate student who assisted Will the semester I took his "History of the Book" course. This was fun for a number of reasons: 1) I had never gotten to hang out socially with Richard (or Richie, as Will likes to call him) or Will before, and it was good to get to know them on a more personal level (Will is from England, but he knew more about America's political system and our political history over the past 30 years than most Americans do); 2) I had never eaten as Sascha's before, and it was quite good (Julie and I are now highly motivated to return and spend the gift certificate that someone at work gave me for putting in lots of extra hours on one of their pet projects); 3) Julie doesn't really drink, so whenever we go out to dinner together I am free to imbibe without worrying about being sober enough to drive home. I had a great time, and I know Julie enjoyed being able to get a little more insight into the kind of work I'm doing at the Walters.

I wasn't really that enthusiastic about our trip to Kentucky for Leila's weddinng—I had already traveled far more than I usually do in a year, plus there was a decent amount of tension surrounding this particular coupling—but I was hoping that the weekend would pass pretty quickly and I could find some way to enjoy it as a mini-vacation. Julie and I left on Thursday morning to fly to Louisville, where we picked up a rental car and drove to Lexington, where the wedding was being held. Even though it was a relatively short flight, it seemed like forever to me, because I was forced to sit on the aisle rather than in my preferred window seat, and for the first time in my life I felt like I might get sick on a plane (things just haven't been the same for my inner ear since my disastrous experience deep-sea fishing in June). So by the time we got off the plane, got to our car, drove to Lexington, and checked into our hotel, I was already exhausted, and it wasn't too long before we had to leave and visit the bride and groom at their house before going to dinner with them that night. But that wasn't too bad (Bill and I played Halo while Leila and Julie steamed the wrinkles out of Leila's wedding dress), and dinner at a japanese steakhouse was pretty fun, too.

The next day Julie had a luncheon to go to, but it started at 11 and she was hoping to be finished by 12 or 12:30 so we could go catch a few races at Keeneland before the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner that night. Because of various delays (mostly due, I think, to the family tension I mentioned before), she didn't get done and back to the hotel to pick me up until close to 2, but we headed straight out to the track and were still able to spend a couple of hours there (three or four races) before leaving. I did pretty well, winning money on each bet and picking two winners, but Julie's small losses offset my small gains, and so we ended up just about even for the day.

The rehearsal started reasonably close to on-time and it was very short, and so we had time to stop back by the hotel for a few minutes before heading to the rehearsal dinner. This event was probably my favorite wedding-related activity of the weekend: they held it at the home of Bill's adopted parents (not legally adopted, but kind of surrogate parents), which sits on a huge lot next to a quiet lake with a nice big screened in porch. There were all sorts of smoked meats, the best macaroni and cheese I've ever had, jalapeno cornbread, and lots of other goodies. Julie and I ate on the porch with another of Leila's bridesmaids, Nathalie, who was really fun to talk to (her husband is a freelance economics writer who recently published an article about the economics of Gilligan's Island that got slashdotted). It was a beautiful house and everyone was drinking and eating and feeling very relaxed.

The wedding itself went pretty well, and the reception afterwards, at a little bed and breakfast just a block or so from the church, was enjoyable, too. Seating was outside in the garden, and a quartet playing gaelic songs provided the background music. There were finger foods and punch, and three cakes: a traditional white wedding cake, a groom's cake that looked like an ancient book (very cool), and another groom's cake from the local supermarket that referenced an in-couple joke about Bill and Leila's first date. Everyone dispersed around 5 to give the newlyweds some privacy, and Julie and I were so tired that we went back to the hotel and took a nap for a few hours. We go up around 8:30, went out and had dinner at a local carribean place called the Atomic Café, and then came straight back to the hotel to get more sleep.

The next morning we attended the final wedding activity, a brunch at Leila's mom's house with the wedding party and Leila's family. That was fairly relaxing because we were able to snag a coveted spot on the newly finished sun porch, away from the crowds in the dining room and living room. Nathalie was there as well, along with Bill and Leila themselves (they probably should have been inside around the main table with Leila's family, but Bill is even more allergic to large groups of strangers than I am). We left around 2 to drive back to Louisville, get on our plane, and get back to Baltimore before too late. It turned out to be a pretty nice weekend overall, and I really wish Bill and Leila the best in their new life together.

Don't forget to watch the lunar eclipse tonight. It begins in earnest at 9:14 p.m. EDT, reaches total eclipse at 10:23, and winds down around 12:54. My physics professor, who is primarily an astronomer, has been talking about it for weeks, and it will be your last chance to see a total lunar eclipse for another two years.

Okay. I don't understand how Bush can have a prayer of winning in next week. I'm not saying he won't, I'm just saying I don't understand how he can, and here's why: the American electorate is divided into three segments whose percentages have seemed to hold fairly steady for the last few elections. 40% are going to vote Republican no matter who the candidate is or how bad a job they've done, and another 40% are going to vote for whatever Democrat the party puts forth. That leaves 20% for undecided or swing voters, who may vote for an independent candidate like Nader or Perot, but who are most likely going to throw their support behind one of the two major party candidates.

In the last election, the two major candidates essentially split this vote, which each getting roughly 48% of the popular vote (Nader picked up about 3%, and the remaining 1% went to various third party like Pat Buchanan and Libertarian Harry Browne). Let's assume that the same thing will happen this year, that 16% of the electorate is up for grabs by either of the major parties (although with Nader not receiving the support of the Green party, which just wants Bush out of office, his 3% could go mostly to the Democrats). Now, I believe that the only reason Bush got half of that 16% last time was because he campaigned as a virtual clone of Al Gore, only one not in any way associated with Clinton. Bush's middle-of-the-road approach—his promises to uphold the Kyoto accords, to keep America from playing the world's policeman, to balance the budget, and to invest in education and healthcare—didn't sync up with his record as governor of Texas, but nonetheless, but given the increased party pressure that comes with a national leadership position, it was at least plausible to believe that he would be a different president than he was a governor. Besides, Clinton was possibly the most divisive president in the last half-century of American politics (until Dubya, anyway), and I'm guessing a lot of Bush's half of the swing voters were from people who just wanted to wash their hands of Clinton.

But here we are, four years later, and it's clear that Bush is not the mainstream candidate that he campaigned as the first time around. He has broken virtually all of his campaign promises, from backing us out of the Kyoto accords (and numerous attempts to take the cause of environmentalism back fifty years), to pushing his christian-right agenda of clamping down on gay rights and abortion (which is an attempt to curtail women's rights), to getting us involved in a quaqmire of a war that absolutely wasn't justified, and which, even if the lies about our knowledge of Iraq's WMD had been true, was still probably illegal. Add to these deceptions the passage of the dreadful Patriot Act and Patriot II, the awarding of untold billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to Halliburton (a company that Cheney still owns massive amounts of stock in, and a company which has been found guilty of overcharging the military on everything from gasoline to cafeteria meals, just to name a few of its transgressions), to his recently-signed massive corporate tax cut bill, and you clearly have a candidate who isn't thinking about middle-class America when he's making policy decision. Anyone who votes for Bush this time around, if they follow politics enough to show up at the polls in the first place, certainly has to know that he has a pro-corporation, anti-civil rights, anti-privacy rights, anti-environment, pro-big government (and pro-big brother) agenda that is not only antithetical to the promises he made when he was a candidate, but which also goes against the grain of most of the traditional values of the Republican party that nominated him.

Since I started working on this piece (I've been letting it sit for two or three months now), the numbers I mentioned in the first paragraph have tightened significantly, with each candidate likely to receive at least 45% of the vote, leaving another 8-10% to battle over in the final week, but quite frankly, it just doesn't make any sense how Bush has managed to push his numbers above 40%, much less to 45% and a virtual dead heat with Kerry. It should be a given that everyone who voted for Gore in 2000—better than 48%, and a solid popular vote lead—is going to vote for Kerry this time around, because it's hard to imagine that Bush has done anything in the last four years that is going to win them over. As for the remaining 12% (taking away Bush's bedrock 40% of supporters from the remaining pool of votes), it wouldn't shock me if the 4% who voted independent last time will vote that way again even though they know what's at stake in this election, but I don't get that remaining 8%, at least 5% of whom appear likely to vote for Bush next Tuesday. I had assumed that these were moderate voters who bought Bush's Al Gore imitation during the last campaign, but what in the world would lead them to believe that he's going to take anything resembling a moderate path after the last four years?

I understand the exceedingly wealthy voting for Bush—he's been enormously generous to them—but the rest of the Bush voters are mystifying to me. The only thing I can figure is that the Republicans have done a brilliant job of patching together a so-called party out of distinct groups of voters that could care less what your other policies are as long as you vote the right way on their single issue, like abortion, gun control, Jesus, etc. Whereas voters who tend to vote Democrat want satisfaction on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues, so that a given candidate might only match their ideal candidate on 70% or 80% of the issues, many voters who will cast their ballot for Bush next week have only one issue, and that trumps everything else. In the same way the you could run a half-eaten baked potato against Bush and still pull 45% of the vote as long as people were reasonably sure that the potato wouldn't be as evil as Bush, you could run a rabid weasel in place of Bush and still get his percentage of the vote as long as that weasel promised to loosen gun control laws, put a justice on the supreme court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, make gay marriage illegal, and make sure that school districts had to teach creationism as if it were as valid a theory as evolution. So yes, it's true that a lot of Democratic voters aren't voting for Kerry so much as they are voting against Bush, but it's also true that a lot of Bush voters aren't so much voting for Bush as they are voting for their one crazy issue at the expense of everything else.

Back in 1988, when Bush the Elder first ascended to the throne after eight years of pulling the levers behind the curtain of the Reagan presidency, Billy Bragg, a musician from England with a strong political bent, released an EP called "Help Save the Youth of America", which, in addition to the title track, included five other protest songs commenting on the Reagan administration. The CD wasn't that great, but the message was, particularly the explicit statement in the liner notes:

Beloved listener, you may well ask, "Why is this limey whining on about our country, when, it's nothing to do with him?" I have no vote in your presidential election yet its outcome will directly affect my future and the future of millions of other people around the world. Forgive me for putting this immense responsibility on your shoulders, but I implore you to take part in the democratic process this year, however imperfect it may be. Remember, when you elect a president, you are electing a president for all of us. Please be more careful this time.

And he's right: Americans generally hate it when other nations tell us who to vote for or how to run our country, but the fact is, due to our enormous economic, cultural, and military strength, our presidential election isn't just about America, it's about the whole world, only we're the only ones who get a say in it. You only have to look at the disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan and the future plans for Iran, Syria, and beyond to realize this. And it's not like Bush has done a bang-up job at home to make up for his travesties abroad—I'm hard pressed to think of a single domestic situation that has been improved by four years of Bush the Younger and his crew of demented puppetmasters (Rove, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, etc.). I actually think that they believe they've been restraining themselves over the last four years because they always had this election in the back of their minds. Imagine what they'll do when they're not worried about public opinion anymore.

So, as you've probably guessed, I'm voting for Kerry on November 2. I believe that he's a thoughtful man who's not afraid to admit when he's made mistakes and take steps to rectify them rather than blindly sticking to a plan that has proven itself to be wholly ineffectual. I believe he will do his best to make things better for the American people and restore the alliances that Bush has systematically dismantled with his reckless, unilateral actions based at best on bad intelligence and at worst on outright fabrications. I believe that his policies reflect the generous, cooperative character of the American spirit, and that he will restore the progressive government that has been gutted by Bush and his corporate cronies who care about nothing but themselves and their bottom line.

Bush has had his four years, and the country is more divided than ever, our debt is spiralling out of control, and we're turning into the most hated country on the planet. We deserve better, and I know that, even with the difficult choices that will have to be made to return to fiscal responsibility and to restore stability to Iraq, we'll be better off with Kerry at the helm. I don't think there's much point in reasoning with those of you who are currently leaning towards Bush, so I'll just urge you to re-read the paragraph from Billy Bragg I quoted above and echo his final thoughts about choosing a president: Please be more careful this time. Don't just vote on a single issue; think about the big picture, and then think about which candidate is most capable of leading us during the trying times that certainly lie ahead.

Well, I guess that's that. 1918, one of baseball's sacred numbers, is no more. The Red Sox fans are happy today, but I'd be willing to bet this is the beginning of the end of the passion they've felt for generations.

As some of you have probably already read, last Saturday Julie and I went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival with Dodd, Alisa, and Fate's Fool. We were supposed to meet at 10:30, but Fool was the only one who made it anywhere close to that time—Julie and I arrived around 10:50, Dodd showed up 10-15 minutes after us, and Alisa finally got there by around 11:30 or so. At that point, it was getting pretty close to the start of the first jousting tournament of the day, so we decided to hold off on lunch and get good seats in the sun for the joust (the weather was beautiful that day, but it was still a bit chilly in the shade). It's always cool to see guys riding full-tilt at one another trying to knock each other to the ground using a pointed stick, and although the tournament was shorter than I expected, it was still a lot of fun. There was one horse that was half-out of his mind—it was really hard to get him in the lane and start him galloping, but once he started, he went full-speed, and didn't seem to have any intention of stopping. Once he threw his rider by coming to a dead stop, and every other time he came close to trampling the ground workers who stood at the end of the lanes to help get the horses ready for the next pass.

After jousting, we all split up to get lunch, our first of many visits to the food court that day. Dodd and I went immediately to the booth selling smoked turkey legs, which have got to be the most popular food item at the fair, and rightly so, while Julie and Fool returned with portabello mushroom sandwiches, which were good, but not nearly as good as the smoked turkey legs. After this quick lunch (which would be followed by several more visits to the food court during the course of the afternoon), we made our way to the far side of the fairgrounds, looking in shops, watching people play games (the Dunk-A-Wench booth never fails to amuse), and occasionally stopping to watch one of the stage acts (we watched parts of a few of them, but the only one I remember distinctly is the juggling unicycler).

Before too long, we found ourselves back at the main food court, where we all decided to be a little more adventurous: Dodd and I each tried a scotch egg (a hard-boiled egg rolled in bread crumbs and sausage and deep-fried), Fool got a serving of fried pickles that she generously shared with the group, and Alisa tried the chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick. You think that would have been it for food for the afternoon, but after wandering around a bit more, we decided to make one last stop before heading to the parking lot. Apparently emboldened by our earlier purchases, we went all out on the final visit: Dodd got both another serving of fried pickles and a piece of fried cheesecack on a stick, while Julie and I shared a dirt cake (some sort of pudding and whipped creame thing with oreo crumbs in it). Fool got a dirt cake as well, but when Dodd announced his intentions to try the fried cheesecake, she also decided that she had to try the one item that had initially grossed all of us out: fried macaroni and cheese on a stick. Of course, she offered to share, both because she knew we were all curious about it and because I don't think she could have finished it herself, and you know, it was really pretty good.

That was it for food. By the time Dodd finished his last bite of fried cheesecake and Fool polished off the fried macaroni and cheese, I was feeling the need to move quickly out of the food court area because I couldn't take the sight of all the sausages, turkey legs, and fried things on a stick. If there's one thing we learned from the renaissance festival, it's that pretty much any food can be deep-fried or eaten on a stick—and often both.

On the way out, we stopped at the printmaker's booth so Fool could pick up a print of a renaissance fool, naturally. They had some good stuff there, but the one print we were really interested in was out of stock in the color that we wanted. I used to have kind of a hang up about going to the festival, like I was supposed to be embarrassed for all these deluded weirdos who dressed up in period costume, and so we've only been going once every few years since moving to Maryland (I think this was our third trip). But I just don't care anymore—I actually really enjoyed seeing everyone putting so much time and effort into dressing up and playing make-believe. I think we might have to head back again next year, especially if we can find a weekend with weather as perfect as it was last Saturday and go with company as enjoyable as Alisa, Dodd, and Fool.

Just a little pre-election treat from Georgie Boy:

He calls it his "one-fingered victory salute". Cute.

To see the whole video, click here.

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